Breathing for Calm

by Margaret Stoklosa

We live in stressful times.  We juggle many balls and are time-strapped with work, childcare, food preparation and other obligations that may include caring for elderly parents or relatives.  Our nervous system is mostly in a state of aggravation, which may manifest as tiredness, chronic sickness, anxiety, depression, or pain. Some of us are more adept at managing this underlying stress than others, but we need solutions to help us deal with our current struggles. While modern medicine is great at addressing the symptoms of this underlying depletion, it does not provide any alternatives in helping us to balance the nervous system response.

Breathwork practices have existed in many cultures for thousands of years with the yogis recognizing that prana is “a life-giving force.” Research has shown that slowing down your breathing pattern to 5-6 breaths per minute can significantly help with anxious feelings, nervous tension, and sync brain waves. (1) The more breathwork is practiced, the more benefits are reaped, including increases in positive mood. (2) Best of all, this option is easily accessible and free to use 24/7, 365 days a year and practicing it on an ongoing basis yields significant benefits. 

As compared to mindfulness meditation, cyclic sighing was effective in improving mood, as well as respiratory rate when utilized just 5 MINUTES PER DAY for a period of ONE MONTH. (2) Here is how to practice it (please check with your provider prior to commencing if you have any respiratory concerns):

  1. Begin by finding a comfortable seat.  Make sure that your back is straight, so your diaphragm is not constrained.
  2. Take a breath through your nose.
  3. Hold for 1-2 seconds.
  4. Take a deeper breath (without letting the first breath go), filling your lungs to maximum capacity.
  5. Once you cannot breathe in any longer, let the breath go, slowly, through your mouth.
  6. Repeat these steps for 5 minutes.

Other breathwork patterns that have shown benefit include: (3)

  • 4-7-8 breathing
  • Alternate nostril breathing
  • Box breathing

Regulating the nervous system response also helps to regulate our digestion.  Regular practice of breathing techniques requires minimal effort and time, while the effects are cumulative.  In addition to stress release practices, our in-house nutritionist can suggest beneficial dietary patterns that support a healthy stress response.

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